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Do school libraries need tables?

This week I was doing a little consulting work for a private school on library facilities and programming. The school is remodeling it's loved, but dated, upper school library. The far-thinking leadership wants a facility that will meet the needs of a changing library and educational program including recognizing that every child will soon have a personal computing device, that learning is becoming social, that resources are going digital, and that hybrid classes may be both effective and economical.

A draft floor plan of the remodeled space had already been created before I visited. As I studied the CAD design, something eventually dawned on me: the new library would ONLY have casual seating - no tables, no chairs, no study carrels. While am just fine assigning carrels to the dust bin of educational history, I had to think about the lack of tables and chairs.

Will the school library need tables in the future? Does it need them today? Can everything be done sitting in casual, comfortable chairs?

I had to think about why people sit at tables in libraries:

  • They spread out books and other materials while they take notes.
  • They write, both on paper and on laptops sitting on the table.
  • They work with others.
  • They play board games. 
  • They are more easily supervised when taking tests, etc.

In a school where every child has a tablet or netbook and, say, 90% of the non-fiction and reference collection is digital, are these uses still relevant? Will kids need flat surfaces on which to work and play?

Think about this one before reacting instinctively. I've been having a tough time objectively finding a good reason. But I know I may be missing something.

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Reader Comments (15)

I think that for the reasons you list you might not need tables, but if you think of a library as a maker-space, then I think you would want some tables for students to build/create. If I could design my dream library I would have tables on wheels that had adjustable height (so I could have students stand or sit at the table) that could also be folded and stored when not needed, not sure if there is something like that available presently. I would want *some tables* to be able to create with my students but not a room full of tables that couldn't be used flexibly.

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMO2L

We use our tables all the time, but we're elementary and not all 1 to 1 or anything, so it's different. But I would think even if everyone had a laptop or tablet or whatever, you'd still want to set the things down and work together and meet and such. Plus everyone uses our desks. I've moved them around three times just this morning. One for a before school book club, then for our Guest Reader Day, then for my first Specials class. Right now there's some visitor with a badge and a laptop at a table in the back giving a kid a test. She's got her laptop and some other stuff on the table.

I can imagine a library without many books and with more comfortable seating, but I think you'd still need some tables for all the many uses we put the space to.

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Randolph

Of course school libraries need tables!

Where are students going to put those laptops? Are they actually going to balance them on their laps? Where would they do group work? Make posters or put together projects? I'm thinking about all the things I've watched students do this week in my library, and I can't imagine how it would work without tables.

Informal seating is great, but you still need formal (but easily re-arrangeable) seating, too.

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

Yes, of course.

December 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohn

Let's ask the kids - we have both options - comfy chairs and tables and chairs .
All of our kids have laptops and/or other devices like ipads. Some prefer to sit in the chairs, some prefer to sit at the tables, and a few prefer to drag the beanbags into the corner and sit. If we accept multiple learning styles, let's accept multiple sitting/ working styles.

December 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

Hi Maura,

I really like your flexibility, portability ideas. To me, this is the goal of all library facility planning at present. I do more students "making" on computers/tablets than I do "making" with paper, scissors, and such anymore - especially at the high school level.

Thanks for your ideas,


Hi Ninja,

Yes, I see a place for tables in the elementary for a long time. Secondary schools that are 1:1? Maybe not so much. It's tough designing a space that will last dozens of years for technologies and learning method that seem to come and go far more often.


Hi Colleen,

I don't remember ever seeing my grandsons working with their iPads on a surface - only on their laps (on the couch!)


Hi John,

Don't overwhelm me with details! ;-)

What uses do you see students or staff making of tables under the conditions I've described?


Hi Tim,

Good point. I am sure there are kids who will prefer tables to comfy chairs at certain times for certain tasks. (Could I have a recliner in my library!)


December 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I'm at a 1:1 school and have both, comfy furniture and tables in our JH/HS library. Kids run for the couches and beanbags. Rarely do students sit at the tables, but really under duress, if they are they to take a test, that sort of thing. Our library is used a lot more since we put in the comfy seating, and yes, people do homework with their laptops on their . . . wait for it . . . laps! :) I know they'd be thrilled to have more comfy seating.

So what did you recommend for that school library?

December 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Actually, this is one of those "genius of the and" vs "tyranny of the or" questions. People have different preferences for how they work (I am lounging on the couch with my laptop - my husband is at his computer desk in front of his as I write). It's not a simplistic either or - but a we need multiple kinds of spaces in classes, libraries, hallways, and other learning areas inside our schools. Kids need spaces where they can work privately (the cave), gather in small groups to collaborate (the campfire) and work with diverse, larger groups to share ideas and exchange information (the watering holes). What's key about all this is provision of choice - choice of seating, surfaces, arrangements, and flexibility in contemporary spaces. An architect recently shared with me that the old style, I call them prison-style, cafeteria tables with fixed seating lack any capability for kids to push in, push away or adjust height of chairs regardless of difference in body type. Libraries also have had that feel - all square/rectangular wooden tables, hard seating, shush modality, institutional lighting, controlled checkin/out, etc. This traditional system was built as an offshoot of the factory floor we duplicated in classrooms. It doesn't benefit learning or support literacy to set up situations where comfort and choice are missing from the equation. So, yes- libraries need a few tables, comfortable seating choices, private spaces, public spaces, strategies for quiet (headphones work well) and capability to chat ala the coffee shop. So- recommend the genius of "the and" tables and not tables. ....

December 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPam Moran

and do the tables need to be square?....personally, I think round tables are best for collaborative work. As you're thinking about spaces and stuff to fill those spaces, I envision an extra large monitor for group style use; maybe a half round table with the monitor on the flat side and chairs around the round size.

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Schiano

I'm with the people who feel tables are needed for putting the laptops on. Even if the chairs have arms with tables that swing around, balancing the technology can be tricky. Is this a high school? Smaller children wouldn't be able to manage this, especially with cords running everywhere. On the assumption that the tools are going to be used often, won't they run of out power by the end of the day?

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I'm in Elementary but I think tables are good for eating at and eating and drinking happen in my library. Art projects and Science fairs too. But I like the idea of storable adjustable tables. I can see slowly removing tables from my library as we have money for other furniture.

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Funk

Hi Christine,

Thanks for sharing your experience.

While I will be recommending a preponderance of comfortable, moveable seating, I think they should still consider at least a couple tables, based on the comments I've been getting on this post.


Thanks, Pam. Great philosophy and insight. I agree 100%!


Hi Deb,

I've seen the table/monitor configuration in a classroom/lab at the local university. One of these in a school library just might be useful.



Thanks, Susan. I know this library allows eating and drinking. I had not thought about science fair either.

Appreciate the comment,


December 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Today we are writing post cards to friends and family about our travel in European countries. Students are free hand drawing the front side. Only a few asked to print pictures. But watching these kiddos engage with their drawings is awesome. Sure - we could do digital postcards, Facebook posts and tweets, but there is also something to be said for using your fine motor skills and drawing. It's hard to imagine doing this with out tables.

I am in the middle of a library refresh right now. One thing I am doing is pulling out the built in furniture and adding rectangular tables that can be used for group work, computers, etc. - mobility and flexibility.

My dream is to make a little cafe in the library - tables needed again. :)

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Leseman

I Like Big Tables, I Cannot Lie! (sing to Sir Mix A Lot!)

I like long ones, and short ones, skinny ones and round ones. Ones that can be moved easily to be re-configured for display space and for gallery walks for collaborative creation, production. Tables for gaming and gossiping, for drawing and drafting! YES, I like a table but I also like comfy cozy loungy slouchy chairs, too. Can't we have it ALL?

But I LOVE the conversation! Why do you always get my red up and my brain fizzing? Oh yeah, you're Doug Johnson! #Awesome!

Hi Wendy,

I hope those remodeling the school in Nevada will read your comments and those of others who posted. It's great for kids and adults to have choices of workspaces!


Hi Gwyneth,

I was worried you were going to say "procreation" as a use for tables there for a minute. ;-)


December 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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